In 1772, letters leaked to the press written by Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson, an Englishman, paved the way for independence by revealing the repression that was being planned against the populace.
Ever since then, making the government’s private information public is built into Washington D.C.’s political world. Revelations about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia belong to this old practice, which has caused resignations in a number of administrations.
President Donald Trump’s outrage is similar to that shown by his predecessors’ when the press has received information they consider confidential. Still, not all leaks to the press are created equal.
In principle, they are a positive resource when a government official secretly gives information to journalists to denounce inappropriate behavior on the government’s part. Most leaks fall under this category, in which the whistle-blower acts to defend the public.
A different type is when official leaks are meant to misinform. Documents with false information are handed over to advance a particular governmental measure. An example of this is when reports assuring that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were leaked.
Another example: The disclosure of a memo considering a future executive order by Trump that would forbid and punish the use of social benefits may have multiple intentions, from warning and informing about the dangers ahead to let people prepare, to scaring immigrants. It all depends on the way the information is handled.
In large part, the problem with intelligence leaks in the current government is that it stems from Trump and his team’s incompetence to deal with intelligence agencies. That is on top of the confusion prevailing inside the administration. The fact that such distrust exists between the White House and agencies is a bad sign.
All this does not have to hide the importance leaks have for voters. They are crucial for a democracy to work; one where the people are informed about their government through a free and independent press.